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DIY Used Car Selling Guide: How to Get Thousands More Than Dealers Will Pay

Find where to sell your used car and how to get the most money for it with this comprehensive guide to selling your car

Want to get more money when you sell your used car? Selling your old car yourself takes more work than trading it in to the dealer, but the payoff could be worth thousands of dollars. Here, Flipsy.com shows you how to find the value of your car, how to maximize its resale value, and where to sell your car for the most money.

Sell your car fast with these tips:

Should you sell a car yourself?

Car dealerships offer instant payment or trade-in value for your vehicle, but the do-it-yourself approach nets more cash.

Drivers keep new vehicles for an average of six years, driving an average of 13,474 miles per year, so it stands to reason that many people are ready to sell 2011 model cars with around 80,844 miles on them. We used these figures to compare current Kelley Blue Book trade-in and private party values for Edmund’s top ten bestselling cars in 2011:

VEHICLE (2011 models with 80,844 miles in “good” condition)TRADE-IN VALUEPRIVATE PARTY VALUE
Ford F-150 XLT$8,645$10,672
Chevy Silverado 1500 Work Truck$7,483$9,826
Toyota Camry LE Sedan$5,855$8,556
Nissan Altima 2.5 S Sedan$4,552$7,556
Ford Escape XLS$4,840$7,600
Ford Fusion SE Sedan$4,443$7,182
Toyota Corolla LE Sedan$5,242$7,605
Honda Accord LX Sedan$6,437$8,697
Chevrolet Cruze LT Sedan$4,542$6,775
Hyundai Sonata GLS Sedan$5,075$7,493

 
As you can see, the private market will pay significantly more than dealerships – an average of 30 percent more, which amounts to $2,485. For some cars, the gap between dealership offers and private party values is even greater: over 40 percent.

Selling your car yourself means you can get thousands more, but you’ll need to do all the work: research value, advertise your car for sale, negotiate with buyers, and ensure a safe transaction. If you don’t mind doing the work or waiting a little longer to cash in on a higher payout, selling your car yourself can not only be more lucrative, but also more personally rewarding.

Going it alone takes more work, but it doesn’t need to be difficult; these tips will help you discover your car’s value and sell your used car for cash.

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Find your used car value

To determine how much your car is worth, start by listing everything you know about it, including:

MakeModelPackage (Sport, XL, XLT, etc.)
YearMileageColor
AccessoriesAftermarket add-on’sVIN number
ConditionMechanical featuresInterior features
ExteriorSafety features

 
All these affect value, and the more you know about your car the more accurately you can price it (and, likely, the more money you can get for it).

How to determine the condition of your car

Most specs are easy to find – your car either has power locks or it doesn’t, after all – but many people struggle when it comes to stating what condition their car is in. Kelley Blue Book uses these condition grades:

         Excellent (3% of cars valued): Looks new and is in excellent mechanical condition

         Very good (23% of cars valued): Minor cosmetic defects, excellent mechanical condition

         Good (54% of cars valued): Repairable cosmetic defects, no major mechanical issues

         Fair (18% of cars valued): Cosmetic defects that need repaired

         Poor: KBB does not provide values for cars in poor condition

Perhaps the easiest way to evaluate the condition of your car is to take KBB’s Condition Quiz. Answer a series of questions about your car, and KBB will give you its condition grade.

Car value estimators

A quick Google search will yield dozens of vehicle value estimators; here are five of the most popular:

These tools take into consideration your car’s features, mileage, condition, and location to determine what it’s worth. Keep in mind these are estimates, and how much you get for your car depends solely on how much a given buyer is willing to pay. Even these tools offer different valuations for the same vehicles.

For example, we ran a 2011 Ford Escape XLS with 80,844 miles in “good” or “average” condition through each of the five car value estimators and compared the private party values they came up with:

EstimatorPrivate Party Value
Kelley Blue Book$7,600
Edmunds$5,337
NADA Guides$5,600
CarGurus$9,618
Consumer Reports$7,625

 
As you can see, the valuation tools generated a wide range of values for the same vehicle – the difference between the highest and lowest valuation was more than $4,000.

Such a large variation makes it difficult to determine exactly how valuable your car is, but with a little more digging you can narrow it down.

For example, CarGurus does not account for condition, so that estimate is probably high.

Edmunds and NADA Guides both have an “average” condition, not “good” like Kelley Blue Book (even though “good” is the average condition checked on KBB), which means they might be on the low side; while Consumer Reports reported nearly the same value as KBB for the vehicle in “average” condition.

Thus, in this example it’s probably fair to consider the Kelley Blue Book and Consumer Reports valuations the most accurate.

You can also use Ebay Motors to research your car’s value. Search for your car model, then select “sold listings” in the left sidebar to see what prices they’ve recently sold for. Since these are real-world sales, and not estimates, they offer perhaps the best estimate for how much you can get for your car. Check mileage and condition to ensure you’re comparing apples to apples.

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Where to sell your used car

Ready to sell your car for cash? Want to sell your truck? You don’t have to settle for less by trading your car in to the local dealer. Other places to sell your car include websites to sell cars by owner, consignment services, and local sites to sell cars online. Here’s where and how to sell your car online.

Sell your used car online

These websites and apps will help you sell your car online. Most either charge a fee or only offer dealer trade-in pricing so they can resell for profit, but it’s worth checking to see if any will pay more than the dealer. Use this list to find the best place to sell your car online.

Carvana

Enter your VIN number and answer a few questions about your car, and Carvana will give you an instant offer. If you accept, you can apply the value toward the purchase of a new car from Carvana’s network or request a certified check for cash. If you live within 100 miles of one of Carvana’s service centers, they’ll pick your car up for free. There are no commissions or sales fees, as Carvana resells used cars to other users. Our 2011 Ford Escape XLS in “just OK” condition with 80,844 miles came in at an estimated value of $5,323 – right around the Kelley Blue Book dealer trade-in (not private party) value.


AutoNation

Enter your VIN or detailed car information, answer some questions, and get an immediate market range value followed by an emailed certified offer for your vehicle. Your offer is good at more than 300 AutoNation stores around the country, so you can’t complete your entire sale online. Our 2011 Ford Escape XLS with 80,844 miles was given a value range of $500 to $8,125, making it difficult to know how much AutoNation will actually pay; but since it’s technically a dealer you can probably expect to receive the trade-in value for your car.


We Buy Any Car

Enter your car information online, answer a few questions, and get an instant valuation for your vehicle. Then, book an appointment at one of 55 local We Buy Any Car centers. After your vehicle is inspected, you will receive a check on the spot – the company’s website says the entire process takes around 30 minutes. The online estimator valued our 2011 Ford Escape XLS at $5,740.


Clunkerbux

Clunkerbux connects people who want to sell vehicles online to businesses that want to buy them. Submit information about your car online and get offers emailed to you from car buyers. Titles are required and payment is typically made on-the-spot upon pickup. Our 2011 Ford Escape received an instant offer of up to $2,225 – far below the dealer trade-in value, though there is also an option to list it for sale for up to $7,500.


Instamotor

Instamotor is an online marketplace for buying and selling used cars. To sell your car, create a free listing and get offers directly from interested buyers. Instamotor is currently available only in California, Houston, and Dallas, but will be expanding into additional markets soon. The Instamotor website offers many tips and tools for selling your vehicle. You’ll need to enter your license number or VIN to verify your vehicle before you start the selling process.


Peddle

Peddle offers two ways to sell your car, and both are free. You can answer a few questions about your car and get an instant offer; if you accept, simply schedule a convenient time for a Peddle representative to pick up your car and pay you on the spot. The second option is to list your vehicle for sale. Peddle will promote your listing to its network of buyers. Our 2011 Ford Escape XLS with 80,844 miles was valued up to $1,945 with buyer pickup, or it could be listed for sale for up to the $6,700 recommended price.


CashForCars

Answer questions about your vehicle online and a CashForCars representative will contact you via email or telephone. CashForCars buys all makes and models manufactured between 2002 and 2017, and in any condition. In addition to cars, they also buy motorcycles, trucks, boats, and RVs. CashForCars has 160 locations nationwide. They arrange pick up, tow your vehicle, and pay on the spot. You’ll need to talk with representative to get an offer.


ClassicCars

ClassicCars is an online marketplace for the classic car market that claims more than three million monthly visits and more than 30,000 cars for sale. The site charges a one-time fee of $99.99 to list your car for sale. Your listing includes an unlimited description, up to 100 photos, and a video. ClassicCars representatives help you create your listing and provide support throughout the selling process. Emails from interested buyers are sent directly to your inbox.


Autotrader

Autotrader offers two options for selling your car. The first is to sell or trade in your vehicle at a participating dealer. Provide information and answer a few questions online, then get a Kelly Blue Book instant cash offer to take to participating dealers. Our instant cash offer for our 2011 Ford Escape XLS with 80,844 miles in good condition was $7,782 – more than the private party value, and more than $2,000 greater than the dealer trade-in value. The second option is to place an ad in Autotrader and on Kelley Blue Book. The cost for placing an ad ranges from $25 for a standard ad with three photos for four weeks to $100 for a premier ad with a featured spotlight that runs until your car sells.


Kelley Blue Book

Kelley offers two options for selling your car. The first option is to trade-in or sell your car by getting a free instant cash offer online and redeeming it at a participating dealer. The second option is to create and place an ad on KBB.com and Autotrader. The fee for running an ad ranges from $25 to $100.


Cars.com

Cars.com offers two ways to sell your car. The first option is to create a classified ad online. Ad pricing ranges from free to $49, depending on the features and exposure you’d like. Another option is to compare up to four online offers from local dealers. The site estimated a classified ad would net $4,600 to $7,625 for our Ford Escape, while local dealer offers ranged from $2,780 to $5,920.


CarGurus

CarGurus is a free online car shopping service that uses a pricing tool to provide an Instant Market Value for your vehicle. The IMV is the estimated fair retail price based on a detailed analysis of comparable current and previously-sold car listings in your local market. Enter some information about your vehicle online and get a suggested selling price, as well as recommended prices to sell your car fast and for more money. Once you have your selling price, you can post your car for sale on the site. Our 2011 Ford Escape XLS with 80,844 miles was given a suggested price of $9,592 with a “sell fast” price of $6,361 and a “make more” price of $10,219.


Ebay Motors

Ebay Motors can dramatically increase exposure for your used car. The auction format can help drive up prices to more than cover Ebay’s fees (a flat successful listing fee based on the vehicle’s final price, only charged upon sale). The “Buy It Now” option can help you earn a quick sale at your desired price. Fees are $60 for cars worth up to $2,000, and $125 for cars that sell for more than $2,000. At the time of this writing, no 2011 Ford Escape XLS models with around 80,844 miles had been recently sold; however, a 2011 Ford Escape Limited with 117,440 miles had recently sold for $6,900.


Shift

Shift takes all the work out of selling your car by handling all the listings, test drives, negotiations, financing, and paperwork for you. Start by getting an instant estimate for your vehicle on Shift’s website. If you like the estimate, you’ll schedule an inspection at your location. A Shift representative will inspect your car and give you a guaranteed minimum payment. If you agree, Shift will take your car and attempt to sell it (most cars are sold within 30 days). Shift believes it will sell your car for more than the minimum guaranteed payment, and splits the difference (called “upside”) with you. Our Ford Escape was given a minimum guaranteed payment of $6,700 with an expected sale price of $9,800. The total upside would be $3,100; Shift would get half at $1,650, and we’d get a total of $8,150. Shift has limited locations at this time but intends to expand into more markets.


Vroom

Vroom is an online direct car retailer that buys and sells cars. Answer a few questions and upload some photos, and Vroom will make a guaranteed cash offer that’s good for seven days. If you accept the offer, you will transfer your title and Vroom will schedule a free pick up. Vroom pays via direct deposit or mailed check after picking up your vehicle. The company states it tries to match or beat competing offers.


Local car selling options

Local options for selling your car can net bigger paydays but also force you to deal with hassles like negotiations and no-show’s. Most let you sell used cars online for free. These sites make it easy to sell used cars to buyers near you – just remember you’re selling your car privately, so you need to vet buyers carefully.

Craigslist

You can sell your car online for free on Craigslist. With no middlemen to pay, you might net the highest payout selling directly to buyers; however, the popular classifieds site offers no moderation or guarantee of sale. Keep an eye out for scams and protect yourself with this guide to selling on Craigslist.


Facebook Marketplace

Similar to Craigslist in that it’s free to post and there is no moderation or guarantee, Facebook Marketplace has the advantage of serving your ad to the world’s largest social network. Search for local car classifieds groups to increase the reach for your Facebook Marketplace listing.


LetGo

This up-and-coming service is like a modern Craigslist, except you can research buyers’ profiles and ratings before you commit to selling – adding a layer of user feedback that can help you avoid scams and dishonest buyers. Posting to the site or app is free, though you can pay to have your post featured.


OfferUp

OfferUp is similar to LetGo in that you can post your car for sale free on its website or app, and buyers and sellers have profiles and ratings. The service verifies user identities and offers in-app messaging, too, so you never need to share your personal contact information.


CarMax

Though CarMax has a website, it does not give online price estimates. Instead, you can schedule a free appraisal at any CarMax location. The process takes around 30 minutes, and if you accept the appraiser’s offer you will be issued an instant check.


Consignment

Another option is to sell your car on consignment, which means someone else – a car dealer or a car consignment company – sells your car for a fee. Consignment services vary by company, but they often include:

  • Marketing your car
  • Cleaning and detailing
  • Handling buyer inquiries and test drives
  • Negotiating the price
  • Finalizing the sale

Some companies charge a flat rate to sell your car. Some charge a commission (typically between 10 and 20 percent). Others charge a combination of a flat rate and commission. For example, you might pay a flat rate upfront for the consignment service, then a commission once your car sells.

The primary benefits to selling a car on consignment are that you don’t need to market your vehicle or deal with buyers, you might be able to get a higher price, and the sales process can be safe and secure: test drives take place at the dealer’s location, for example, not your home. Another benefit: dealers can offer financing, which can help facilitate quick sales.

Selling on consignment does mean you give up some control over the selling process. Typically, you’ll work with the consignment company to set a price, but if it sells for more the consignment company might keep the difference. Some services require you to purchase a vehicle warranty to transfer with the sale.

Before you agree to a consignment deal, you should find out who is responsible for insurance while your car is on the lot and during test drives, as well as whether repairs are needed and who is responsible for them.

Note that while you might be able to sell your car quicker through an experienced consignment dealer versus going it alone, some have expressed concerns over the potential for consignment scams.

Here’s how an example consignment sale might work:

  • You and the dealer agree your car is worth $10,000, so they can’t sell it for less than that price
  • The dealer sells your car for $12,000
  • The dealer keeps the $2,000 difference
  • You pay an upfront fee of $200 for the consignment service (which includes marketing, prep, etc.)
  • You pay 10% of the agreed-upon price: $1,000 (10% of $10,000)
  • The dealer gets $3,200
  • You get $8,800

Ultimately, it’s up to you to vet any car consignment company you’re considering, and fully understand the details and payment schedule before you sign.

Companies that sell cars on consignment include:

Ask local car dealers if they offer consignment programs, or search online for local car consignment companies to see what options are available in your area.


“For Sale” sign

Finally, you can sell your old car for cash via one of the most classic methods available: a “for sale” sign. Put the sign in your windshield and park your car in a prominent location: along a busy street, in a mall parking lot (if allowed), and anywhere else it will gain maximum exposure. If you don’t have access to a good location, seek out people who do: often, they’ll let you park your car on their property in return for a commission or “finder’s fee” if it sells.


Where to donate your car

If you’d prefer to donate your car rather than sell it (or if you just can’t sell your junk car), you can give to a charitable cause and still reap rewards come tax time. In most cases, your deduction can be equal to the Fair Market Value (FMV) of your car. The IRS publication titled “A Donor’s Guide to Car Donations” details what you need to know before you donate your car, including:

  • How to select a charity: Make sure your chosen charity is a 501 (c)(3) and has a good track record for spending charitable contributions wisely. Some partner with third parties that can significantly reduce how much money goes to the cause
  • How to determine Fair Market Value (FMV): You can use services like Edmunds and Kelley’s Blue Book to get an estimate for FMV (the private party value based on your car’s condition), but the responsibility is yours to accurately report its value. If you’re claiming a value of more than $5,000, your vehicle must be appraised
  • Recordkeeping and filing requirements: Donations must be itemized on Line 17 of 1040 Schedule A. If your car is worth more than $500, you must also list the donation on Schedule A of Form 8283. If it’s worth more than $5,000, you’ll need a written appraisal from a qualified appraiser. If it’s worth less, you should have proof to back up your claim of value. You should always keep a receipt from the charity to prove your donation and its value at the time of donation. Many charities will also issue you a Form 1098-C

Here’s a list of charities that accept vehicle donations and have 501 (c)(3) status, along with the causes they support.

CHARITYCAUSE
The Humane SocietyAnimals
Cars For VeteransVeterans
Paralyzed Veterans of AmericaParalyzed veterans
The ArcPeople with disabilities
American Red CrossDisaster relief, lifesaving blood, and more
Vehicles For ChangeCars for disadvantaged families
American Children’s Cancer FoundationChildren and their families affected by cancer
ASPCAPrevention of animal cruelty
Animal League AmericaAnimal rescue and adoption
American Cancer SocietyCancer research and education
Habitat For HumanityAffordable housing
Donate Cars 4 WishesChildren’s charities
Ronald McDonald HouseSick children and families
Wheels For WishesMake-A-Wish Foundation for sick children
Kars 4 KidsChild education and mentorship
800 Charity CarsFamilies in need

There are many more charities that accept car donations; if you want to make a local impact, reach out to local chapters. You can also consider donating to churches and other religious organizations. Search online for charities that accept vehicle donations, or try sites like Donate A Car and Charity Navigator to find charities that support causes you’re passionate about – and properly vet them before you give.


Car selling tips

Use these tips to get more money for your used car:

Know what you have

Understand exactly what vehicle you have so you can properly represent it to buyers. The more you know about your car, the more accurately you can price it. Knowledge lends you control throughout the selling process and helps you get a fair price.

Vehicle documentation like title and registration include most of the information you need about your car, but you should additionally factor valuable add-on’s and accessories into the price. You can also get information about your car with a VIN number lookup. The National Insurance Crime Bureau offers a free VIN number check; or, get more detailed reports with paid services like Carfax and autoDNA.

You can find your VIN number on your title, insurance documentation, or on your car (typically located in the door jamb, on the dashboard, or under the hood).

Were to find VIN number

Source: Texas Department of Motor Vehicles

Clean and detail your automobile

A glossy exterior and clean interior make your car appear in better condition, and therefore more valuable. Take the time to wash and wax your car, shine your rims and tires, clean the dash, and sweep the carpets and upholstery before you take photos or show your vehicle in person.

Take a lot of photos

Showcase your car from multiple angles, interior and exterior. Get close-up shots of unique or valuable accessories, and take a picture of your odometer reading to prove mileage. Snap photos of any damage to help prospective buyers understand its extent.

Get your paperwork in order

Have all your paperwork ready to go; the last thing you want to do is find a buyer then fail to find your title. If your state requires a bill of sale, go to its DMV website and print one. Collect your title, registration, and maintenance records before you try to sell your car. You might also want to identify which bank and/or Notary Public you’ll use to confirm the sale. Find a Notary Public

Create a detailed ad

If you’re selling your car via an ad posting, be sure to include as much information as possible to attract prospective buyers, reduce the need for questions and negotiations, and facilitate a quick sale. Your ad should include:

  • Make
  • Model
  • Package
  • Year
  • Mileage
  • VIN number (or make it available on request)
  • Service history
  • Accident history and damages/repairs
  • Photos
  • Gas mileage
  • Engine size
  • Transmission type (manual or automatic, number of gears/speeds)
  • Condition
  • Tire wear
  • Updates, add-on’s, and accessories
  • Any unique features or benefits that will make your vehicle more attractive to buyers

In addition, you should use keywords in your headline and ad body copy to help your ad get found via online searches. For example, “Corvette Stingray” or “convertible Mustang.” Think about how someone might search for the type of car you have, then incorporate those phrases (keywords) into your listing.

Set pricing so everyone wins

If you’re selling your car directly to end users, you want to set a price that leaves room for negotiations. For example, you might be happy to get $5,000 for your car, so you set the price at $6,500. After negotiations, you and the buyer agree on $5,000 – you get the price you want, and they’re happy they could negotiate a lower price.

Vet buyers thoroughly

If you’re selling online, check buyer profiles and ratings. Even the best sites to sell used cars are subject to a bad apple or two. If you’re selling offline, learn as much as you can about buyers before meeting, then check out their Facebook and other social media profiles. If you notice any red flags or something about the buyer makes you uncomfortable, pass on the offer.

List multiple places and compare offers

You don’t need to list your car everywhere, but listing in two or three locations and comparing offers from a handful of buyers will help you net the best price.

You should additionally consider payout times and convenience; for example, it might be worth losing a few hundred dollars in the sale to take a hand’s-off approach to selling your car. On the other hand, it might be worth it to sell it yourself so you can get the highest possible payout.

Be safe

Take measures to protect yourself. Make sure you’re dealing with a reputable buyer. If you’re selling in person, don’t give up the keys until you get paid. Take a friend along, and meet buyers in a well-lit, busy, public place. Be wary of potential scams, and remember: if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Armed with these resources, you can confidently sell your car knowing you’re able to get a great price and enjoy a simple selling process. Carefully investigate each resource to choose which is best place to get cash for your car – it literally pays to know your car selling options!

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